As any body language expert will tell you, the way you carry yourself during a speech, presentation, or meeting plays a massive role in your ability to win over your audience.
Keeping your voice under control, making good eye contact, ensuring your movements and gestures seem unforced--these are all vitally important when it comes to public speaking success.
But of course, there's a fine line between conveying confidence and potentially creeping people out.
Here are seven areas that should always be top-of-mind for any aspiring public speaker, along with some helpful tips on how to avoid overdoing it:
1. Make purposeful eye contact
Connect with your audience by making meaningful eye contact. You'll come off as cool, collected, and personable.
My fellow Inc.com columnist Sims Wyeth wrote about this back in 2014: Sustained and purposeful eye contact makes you seem more confident and more believable. After all, we're conditioned from an early age to assume that people who avoid eye contact have something to hide.
Conversely, be careful not to overdo it. Don't simply lock onto one person in the front row for five straight minutes. They'll think you're up to something or pulling a parlor trick.
Move around the room and try to make a connection with as many people as possible. And don't forget to blink--that's what human beings do, remember?
2. Engaging facial expressions
Now that you have your audience's attention, engage them with your facial expressions.
Your countenance needs to match the emotional message you're sending. While this might sound a bit obvious, but it's amazing how many people seem to forget simple things like these.
If you make a joke, lead into it with a smile. If you ask your audience a direct question, don't stare down at the floor. If you're giving a serious lecture, practice in a mirror to ensure your furrowed brow is coming off as pensive rather than furious.
3. Effective hand gestures
According to Psychology Today, people gauge your emotions by looking at your hands before you even begin to speak.
By gesturing occasionally and decisively with open palms, you can indicate to your audience that you are confident and invested in the message of your speech.
Be careful not to ball your hands into fists, which can convey fear or aggression. Open palms, on the other hand, communicate honesty and self-assurance.
4. No fidgeting!
According to communication and presentation expert Ben Decker, using your hands is important BUT gesticulating too wildly, or fidgeting while you speak, can make you seem nervous at best--totally unhinged at worst.
Don't act like you're conducting an orchestra. When you're not making deliberate gestures, try to keep your arms still, either at your waist or by your side. Unnecessary hand motion will distract from what you have to say.
5. How's your power posing?
Striking the right pose not only makes you appear more confident--it can actually make you feel more confident.
In her popular TED Talk, "Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are," social psychologist Amy Cuddy explains the correlation between the way we carry ourselves and the way we're perceived by others. In recent news, Cuddy's co-author (Dana Carney) now says body language advice isn't as important.
Research shows that striking the authoritative poses Cuddy highlights in her talk, you can lower your cortisol levels, feel relaxed, and appear more confident.
6. Measured movement matters
Of course, how you move is just as important as how you pose. Unless you're stuck behind a podium, it's natural to move across the stage during the course of your speech.
A few steps in one direction or another will make it seem as though you're addressing the entirety of your audience.
Just don't go overboard with the pacing. Occasional movement communicates poise. Swinging back and forth across the stage like a pendulum conveys nervousness and uncertainty.
If you need some additional help keeping those nerves under control, here are some tips on how some of the world's best public speakers deal with stage fright.
7. Dress for success
According to speaking coach Nick Morgan, what we wear impacts others' perceptions of us more than we might think. To convey authority, try to dress one step above what your audience will be wearing.
For example, at a business casual event, wear a sports coat but ditch the tie. Your outfit should be clean, well-fitting, and make you feel like a million bucks. The more confident you feel, the better your delivery will be.
You need to make sure you're doing everything you can to project an air of confidence and competence from the moment you step onto the stage.
First impressions are often lasting ones, and you want people to remember your message--not your wild and frantic hand gestures.